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Orangutan of the Month: Boy

Full front of Boy's head with cheeck pads.
Boy gazes into camera

Boy Oh boy! At approximately 140 kilograms (300 pounds), Boy is definitely the “big man” at OFI’s Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ). Not much of Boy’s history is known but his fully developed cheek pads tell us that he is at least 20 years old. Male Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) demonstrate arrested development; they are able to mate and reproduce around the age of 15, then go through a secondary sexual development up to five years later producing magnificent cheek pads, extended throat pouches, and enormous bodies. Hearing a fully grown adult male long call is a thrilling experience and one that staff at the OCCQ hear almost daily. Boy hangs his head back and gives an almighty roar sometimes three or four times a day! Long calls are amplified through enlarged throat pouches and are usually sounded in the morning and evening to communicate the males’s location to nearby orangutans, affirm dominance, and impress females.

Hear Boy Long Call

Boy’s past is a mystery. He came to the OCCQ already a cheek-padded adult. He was brought to the OCCQ from a wildlife rescue center by the Forestry’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. It is suspected that Boy was born in the wild due to many of his “wild” reactions to human objects. When Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas first met Boy in Jakarta, she offered him a bottle of water which he immediately knocked out of her hand, pushing her hand away. He did not attempt to grab or bite her hand. An orangutan who had spent much time with humans would likely have taken the bottle to drink or pour out. Boy came into the care of OFI with his left index finger permanently bent. We do not know what happened to cause the injury but it no longer causes him pain or restricts him in any way. He does attempt to straighten it out with his other hand from time to time.

 Boy's bent left index finger.
Boy’s bent left index finger.

Boy is one of the most interesting orangutans in OFI’s current care because he has been known to do some unique things. Among the most important enrichment items that the orangutans are given are branches. Orangutans use these branches to eat, play with, use as tools, and make nests. In the wild, orangutans make new nests nightly high up in the tree canopy for sleeping. It is important that the orangutans at the OCCQ continue this behavior until they are able to return to the forest. After stripping the branches of leaves, Boy does something extraordinary; he weaves the branches in and out of the beams of his sleeping enclosure! Boy also weaves long green beans and other pliable materials given to him. It is possible that Boy has witnessed humans weave but it is unlikely and suggests that Boy is highly intelligent.

Boy demonstrates his weaving abilities.
Boy demonstrates his weaving abilities.

Boy is also known for his keen sense of style. On one occasion, he was seen rearranging string used to secure boxes and packages. He maneuvered it over his head and wiggled it down to the roundest part of his belly essentially donning a bright pink belt! Not only did he find a new use for an object, he took great pride in doing so! For the remainder of the day he stood showing off his new belt to everyone who passed by with immense satisfaction. Since this occurrence, Boy is given long pieces of raffia to pursue his interests in both weaving and fashion.

Boy enjoying a banana.
Boy enjoying a banana.

Although Boy is very well looked after here at the OCCQ, what he really needs is a permanent home in the forest.  The Orangutan Legacy Forest will allow Boy (and many other orangutans) to return to the wild as well as protect 6,400 acres of natural peat swamp forest habitat from palm oil plantations and other types of development which are currently threatening wild orangutan populations. Boy is definitely King of the Care Centre. His intelligence, confidence, and size are all indications that he will one day be King of the Wild.

Boy contemplating the observer
Boy contemplating the observer

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